Can Russians Own Personal Property?
But how can these opportunities for advancement amount to much, some people ask, if extra earnings cannot be translated into property? For the abolition of capitalism in Russia has been taken by many Americans to mean that the Russians cannot own any personal property whatever. That is not true. The Soviet leaders draw a sharp distinction between owner-ship of capital for private gain, and ownership of various forms of personal property—houses, books, domestic utensils, clothes, furniture, automobiles, and the like—for private use.
What a Russian cannot do is accumulate money from his wages, put this money into a private enterprise, even a small shoeshop or stationary store, and then hire people to work for him as an individual. This is strictly forbidden. Everyone is encouraged to save his money, however, and deposit it in government banks or buy government securities. The financial resources thus accumulated are managed solely by the state and are invested by it in various enterprises—from steel mills and tractor factories to the stores in which people buy their shoes, clothes, and furniture.
Things Russians can own
A Russian can use his wages to buy himself a house in town or a place in the country. He can buy as much in the way of furniture, clothes, books, and bric-a-brac as he can afford or—what is more important—can find in the shops. Theoretically, he could buy an automobile, a washing machine, a refrigerator, and so on—if such things were on the market for private purchase.
Actually, however, the Soviet government has long concentrated the country’s industrial resources on production of heavy equipment, especially for war purposes, and has drastically cut down production of consumers’ goods. The USSR had been preparing-for-war for many years. The steel and other materials that might have gone into private automobiles went instead into tanks, airplanes, and all the articles of war that the Russians have been using so effectively against the Germans.
The shortages of consumers’ goods in Russia—even such ordinary things as soap and toothbrushes—have not been caused by the desire of the government to prevent people from owning private property. The reason lies rather in the government’s wish to prevent diversion of the country’s resources from the production of war and other capital goods to the production of consumers’ goods. Once the shadow of war is lifted and Russia’s productive forces can be applied to peacetime needs, Soviet leaders hope that every man, woman, and child in the Soviet Union will have as many of the good things of life as possible.
A Russian may also purchase government bonds with whatever part of his income he does not spend on consumers’ goods. He receives interest on these bonds. He may also transmit his house, furnishings, books, etc., to his children by inheritance.
Personal property for the peasants What we have just said about the ownership of personal property by factory wage earners or salaried office and professional workers is also true of peasants working on collective farms: In the Soviet Union, land is the property of the state. The number of individual farms (all operated on state land) has been reduced to less than 1 percent of the total. Most Russian peasants, then, are members of collective farms (also operated on state land). They share in the net profits of the farms as a return for the tasks they perform—whether these be plowing, milking, harness mending, or clerical work in the farm administration. These profits are paid in part in cash and in part in the produce of the farm.
In addition, the peasant can own his own house and can have a plot of his own, in which he is free to raise vegetables, pigs, fowl, and the like. He can sell his share of the collective farm output as well as the vegetables, eggs, and chickens from his own garden in what is called the “free market.” That is, he can take them to the nearest town and sell them to the townspeople without having to pass through government-operated stores. The right to hold land for a garden and sell the produce of that garden was a concession the government made to the peasants after collective farming had become an accepted thing.
Thus, theoretically at least, the Soviet citizen has the right to own personal property in a way which does not greatly differ from our right to own personal property.